Keith Stevenson is a speculative fiction writer, editor, publisher, podcaster and reviewer. In 2006, he co-founded coeur de lion with Andrew Macrae and they went on to publish c0ck, a collection of original stories interrogating masculinity within a speculative fiction framework and Rynemonn, the long awaited conclusion to the Tom Rynosseros stories from Terry Dowling. Last year Stevenson edited X6 an anthology of six novellas by Australian authors. Stevenson has been editor for Aurealis magazine, organising convenor of the Aurealis Awards and now hosts the monthly Terra Incognita Australian Speculative Fiction Podcast which features the best Australian speculative fiction read by the authors who created it.
1. Congratulations on the success of X6 and particular of the novella “Wives” by Paul Haines. How did the anthology of novellas come about? What do you think is the appeal of novellas?
Thanks. I really believe we created something special with X6 and it’s starting to create a bit of a buzz, including being listed on the Locus Magazine Recommended Reads, so it’s good to know other people feel the same way.
As to the origin of X6, well that’s shrouded in the mists of time. Louise Katz will tell you she suggested the idea to me but I have a different, albeit hazy recollection. I think it was a bit of a zeitgeist thing, and it’s been done before, most notably by Jonathan Strahan. But the catalyst was twofold. Firstly as a writer and talking to other writers, I’d heard lots of stories about novellas and novella ideas people were working on without much hope of getting them published because the markets for longer fiction were few and far between. Paul Haines, for example, had been working on ‘Wives’ for years, although it was still unfinished. And part of the problem in finishing it was that there wasn’t a ready market for such a long piece of work (the final story weighs in at over 36,000 — almost a novel by SFWA standards).
I also knew (and this goes to the second part of your question) just what the novella length affords to a speculative fiction story. I’m not a fan of flash fiction – and I don’t say this lightly given the thrashing at least one other editor I know took after expressing that opinion. To me the magic of speculative fiction stories are that they can transport you to a fully realised world where everything is invented — a truly immersive experience. But stories also need to have a narrative drive, or the reader will quickly lose interest. They have to be about something, they have to pose a question in the reader’s mind, a question the reader wants to go on the narrative journey to find the answer to. The novella length gives writers the scope to achieve both those aims without sacrificing story to worldbuilding and vice versa. And looking at it from the other side of the scale, the novella, as opposed to the novel length, allows the author to concentrate their themes and ideas without ‘padding’, and potentially diffusing the story impact, in order to fit a longer world count. As Sean Williams said in his back cover blurb for X6, ‘the novella is the ideal length for speculative fiction.’ And Twelfth Planet Press’s novella series bears out that assertion.
2. I’ve been really enjoying your monthly TISF Podcast. What got you interested in podcasting and how do you see the role of the podcast in the scene? Can you give us a sneak peek at the future schedule for TISF?
Well, I’m a lazy person really, and I thought podcasting would let me do a kind of monthly magazine without all the text based editing work. Hah!
Terra Incognita Australian Speculative Fiction podcast (www.tisf.com.au) came out of a recognition that, thanks to the ubiquitous iPod, podcasting was becoming very popular and I felt it would be a good idea for us to use the medium to get Australian speculative fiction out there and in the mix. So the program concept was very simple, get authors to read their own work that has been published elsewhere. One obvious benefit was that once stories are published in a magazine or an anthology, that’s it. Unless you have a copy of that mag or book, the ‘life’ of the story has pretty much ended. I wanted to give those stories a second chance by digitizing them and making them available to anyone who has a web browser and a media player. So in a way we give stories a second life after publication. The other thing I thought was pretty cool was to build an auditory archive of the voices of contemporary Australian speculative fiction authors. Think of it, you can stream or download a show and hear what Sean Williams actually sounds like. Imagine if we could hear what HG Wells sounded like or Jules Verne? There’s not much chance of that now, but we can at least do it for living authors. And TISF is mirrored on the National Library’s Pandora site so those recordings are going to be around for a very long time. The final thing I thought would really be of interest to spec fic fans was that through the podcast you’re hearing the story as the author heard it inside their heads when they were writing it. They’re telling it how they think it ought to be told. To me that’s a really exciting thing.
Everyone I’ve approached so far has jumped at the chance to do this and their generosity has been fantastic. And I think the authors have really enjoyed the experience too, so it’s a win win. The next few months will see stories from Ben Peek, Jason Fischer and Margo Lanagan. After that I have a few more ideas. There’s no shortage of talent here so we’ll keep going as long as people want to keep listening.
3. What’s next for coeur de lion and Keith Stevenson?
Aha, well your question is very timely. I can deliver an exclusive to Snapshot 2009. In the next month we’ll be announcing a new anthology, which we’ve scheduled for publication in 2011, is open for submissions. Don’t email me yet, people, but I will be making announcements on all the lists and things.
Anywhere But Earth will bring you stories that challenge your ideas about the future; tales of the adventures, discoveries, mistakes, revelations, and testing times that individuals or humanity as a whole will face and how we will be changed by, or adapt to, those experiences.
Stories will be set in deep space, on human or alien vessels, orbital platforms, rocks, planetoids, terraformed worlds and alien environments. In short, anywhere but Earth.
Detailed submission guidelines aren’t available yet, but for the breadth of our canvas, think James Blish, Frederick Pohl, Larry Niven, Greg Egan, Poul Anderson, Elizabeth Moon, Charles Stross, Cordwainer Smith, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Sean Williams, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Phillip K Dick.
The settings will be near, far or alternative future and all points in between, written as hard/ technological SF, cyberpunk, steampunk, slipstream, new weird, sociological or philosophical SF, space opera, military SF, or a blend. Just no horror or fantasy, although the SF story may have horrific or fantastic elements.
We want authors to imagine the future as it could be anywhere but Earth and share their vision with us.
I’m pretty excited about the concept and we want to build on our success with X6. coeur de lion is in for the long haul. We’ve worked to develop a reputation as a publisher of high quality speculative fiction and we want to continue that with Anywhere But Earth.
As to little old me, I’m 80,000 words into my space opera novel The Way of the Kresh and it feels like I’ve hit the halfway mark in terms of story (at least for the first bit) so I’m keeping on with that.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo ballot this year?
Paul Haines for ‘Wives’! Seriously, and I’m not just saying this because I’m the publisher, ‘Wives’ is one of the most chilling, gritty and unputdownable novellas you will read this year. And if you’re considering Hugo Nominations, you can read ‘Wives’ online here http://www.keithstevenson.com/wives.html. I’d like to see Sean Williams and Marianne De Pierres up there too. They’re carrying the science fiction torch for all of us. Yes I am a hardcore science fiction fan, I admit it. Trudi Canavan for fantasy. Horror-wise Stephen M Irwin’s The Dead Path was impressive, and Kaaron Warren ‘cos she’s brilliant even though I wasn’t totally knocked over by Slights but I know a lot of people liked it.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
I’ll be there and I’m most looking forward to selling all my stock! Actually seeing Kim Stanley Robinson will be pretty cool. It’ll just be nice to hang out with the usual suspects. Come see me in the dealer’s room.