2012 Snapshot Archive: Brendan Duffy

First published at David McDonald’s blog.

Brendan Duffy emerged on the Australian speculative fiction scene in 2002 after finishing an 80,000 word PhD about the deep molecular evolution and comparative analysis of mammalian sex chromosomes. He has always maintained an interest in the science of evolution, and also the evolution of science, having also studied the history and philosophy of 17 & 18th Century biology. He writes fiction set in past and future worlds where paradigms of antique or fantastic science yield milieux with technologies that function alongside contemporary belief systems such as religion and/or magic. Brendan mainly writes cyberpunk and steampunk, though is still exploring different realms of the genre. Themes explored include consciousness and colonisation.

Brendan Duffy is the Aurealis Awards winner for science fiction short stories in 2003 and 2004, with ‘Louder Echo’ and ‘Come to Daddy’. ‘Louder Echo’ was also selected for Hartwell & Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 4, and ‘The Tale of Enis Cash, Smallgoods Smokehand’ was selected for Congreve & Marquardt’s Year’s Best Australian SF& Fantasy 2004.

He is a graduate of the inaugural Clarion South speculative fiction writers’ workshop of 2004, and was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts emerging writer’s grant in 2004.

He was also nominated for Best New Talent Ditmar Award (2003 and 2004), Best Novella Ditmar Award (2004), Best Fantasy Short Story Aurealis Award (2003), and the Pushcart Prize (2004).

Brendan is currently writing a novel set in 16th century Italy, based on the secret life of the renaissance scientist and playwright, Giambattista della Porta.

Your story, Space Girl Blues, appears in Coeur De Lion’s latest anthology Anywhere But Earth amidst a veritable “Who’s who” of Aussie Spec Fic writers. Editor Keith Stevenson has recently come out and spoken of some of the challenges facing small press anthologies, including lack of reviews. Do you think the scene is supportive of anthologies? Do you see a continuing place for anthologies in the future? And, where did Space Girl Blues find its genesis?

I can’t really claim to have my finger on the pulse of the beating heart that is Aussie spec fic because these days I’m more a truant or vagabond than an ongoing genre contributor locked into dynamic dialogue with the zeitgeist. I haven’t been keeping in touch with the scene at all, and of late there have certainly been many anthologies I’ve not contributed to or even been aware of (and I rue that fact), so I can really only answer this question with one eye open. I write less than one short story a year, and hope to place it well, so was thrilled to get into AbE with a freight train of great writers. AbE is an exciting read with some truly wonderful stories, yet I was surprised by the lack of online buzz it generated and wanted it to achieve a larger presence, including more reviews and some discussion on what the antho had to offer and how it dealt with the theme. On the other hand, the genre itself formally supported AbE with AA nominees and a winner. And as far as the future goes, I would like to see more anthos.

But thanks for asking how Space Girl Blues came about. I grew up in green-belt suburban Eltham among sylvan trees and dams, where Don’s Party was over and the children of those mud-bricked hippies grew up to be football hooligans or fist-fodder. My high school was staunchly proud of its statistically aberrant processed white-breddedness. My older brother fled Beer-Garden Australia and mailed care packages back from London that contained all kinds of cultural oddities for those remaining behind enemy lines, including music from another planet; some strange band from Akron Ohio that couldn’t get a deal anywhere had found an indie label in London to press limited runs of post-punk new wave 45s. One of these was a song from 1978 called Automodown about the Kent State massacre, and sandwiched behind this with no pregap was an unlabelled two minute add-on called Space Girl Blues with offworld lyrics and theraminesque riffs that made me know my teenage brain was buttered on the sci fi side. This song stayed with me, engendered a ferment that I knew one day would write itself a story. The internet allows you to mine, commodify and recolonise your past with the methodical relentlessness of BHP, the pedantry of a trainspotter, and I now have over 49 of their albums, demos, outtakes, alternate versions.

You were a member of the inaugural Clarion South class of 2004 ( a class that has gone done in legend!). How much of an impact did that experience have on your career as a writer? How important is it to Aussie Spec Fic that Clarion South, or something similar, happens again in the future?

Clarion South was wonderful, and I left ultra-positive, enthusiastic, and with a feeling that things would move a touch quicker than have. Its ironic that Clarion South is now a fictional world in itself, the intensity, the workload, the think-tank environment; and as I boldly tread through a brave new world of used nappies, bills and play-lunches the memories of that wonderful time crystallise into hallowed things of legend from an Eden lost and gone. Clarion South generates Australian culture. It had a major impact on my life, helping to clarify my goals and aspirations with surety. I don’t really have a ‘career’ as a writer yet, its more an MO for a few short bodies of genre bladework, but many writers from CS have carved niches as short story writers, while others have gone on to become successful novelists. I hope to join the latter and have my novel out shortly. Don’t ask what shortly means.

You’ve written a number of acclaimed and award winning short stories, and built quite a reputation in the field. Is your focus still on the short form, or are there other projects that you are working on that we might see in the future?

I have a lot of works planned, but I’m a slow writer without an abundance of spare time, so most of these will remain submerged and not get to gulp air. I guess it comes down to choosing the right bait for my hook. I hope to keep writing a few short stories while mainly concentrating on larger projects. I have almost finished writing my first novel, but it’s been quite a lengthy experience (I wrote my first draft at Clarion South back in the dreamtime). I’m currently interested in late medieval science and milieu, witches and the Inquisition in Languedoc, time travel, and have recently been attempting to enthuse colleagues in a manifesto of post-transhumanism that builds upon Mundane SF.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The Courier’s New Bicycle was a great novel that took Aussie spec fic to new places. I was impressed with the work and thrilled for its success, and I hope there is more where that came from. I also enjoyed the Slice of Life collection, he was a canny one.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I’m so non-scene I really couldn’t say.

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