Damien Broderick is an award-winning Australian sf writer, editor and critical theorist, with a PhD from Deakin University. A senior fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, he currently lives in San Antonio, Texas. He has sold more than 50 books, including Reading by Starlight, x, y, z, t: Dimensions of Science Fiction, Unleashing the Strange, and Year Million. The Spike was the first full-length treatment of the technological Singularity, and Outside the Gates of Science is a study of parapsychology. His 1980 novel The Dreaming Dragons (revised in 2009 as The Dreaming) is listed in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. His sf novel diptych Godplayers and K-Machines was written with the aid of a two-year Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. The sf thriller Post Mortal Syndrome, written with his wife Barbara Lamar, was published online by Cosmos and recently released in the USA by Borgo Press.
1. Your latest project is an ambitious project with Paul Di Filippo – Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 which comes out in June. What inspired you to take on such a task?
I’ve never met Paul, who lives in Rhode Island, but I’ve always admired his gonzo fiction and his excellent book reviews, which crop up all over the place. It occurred to me some years ago that it was surely time for an update to David Pringle’s pioneering study Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984. His opening selection was George Orwell’s great dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four(which was published in 1949) which made a suitable starting point for a 1985 book concluding with 1984′sNeuromancer. It struck me that so many great science fiction books had been published in the subsequent quarter century that it was time for a sequel survey.
That was a formidable prospect, however, and I realized that no single critic was adequately equipped to cover the entire booming genre over that interval. Luckily, I’m on a listserv with Paul, and we’ve even written a couple of stories together, so I invited him to join me in this adventure. It took us the best part of a year to read or reread 101 excellent science fiction novels, and write them up into a sort of grand developing narrative that we closed off, for neatness, in 2010. I hope our book will be a kind of landmark tribute to the many delightful and brilliant writers who have developed science fiction in English since the mid-80s.
2. Your work in Australian and International speculative fiction spans many years, genres and critical accolades for both your fiction and non-fiction work. For a fan new to the scene, what should they go and read to get a sense of the ‘Best of Damien Broderick’?
I do jump around a lot. That’s not a winning strategy for a commercial writer: you’re supposed to establish a particular way of writing and stick with it, so the customers know what to expect each time. When I was a kid, I read A.E. van Vogt’s ridiculously titled composite novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle, where the central character is a “Nexialist,” a sort of intellectual jack of all trades or shirtsleeves polymath, and decided that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. Never made it, of course, because it’s an impossible ambition, but I have tried to cover a lot of ground as a writer. Like most SF scribblers, I began with short stories in adolescence, sold my first collection when I was 20, then did some pop music journalism, wrote entries for an encyclopedia, knocked out popular science articles for magazines, published a terrible first novel full of facetious names, compiled one of the first anthologies of Australian science fiction, and eventually published my third novel, The Dreaming Dragons in 1980. It achieved a certain amount of notice (it got into Pringle’s book, for example), and helped me publish my second novel, The Judas Mandala. And so on.
In the mid-1980s, I was reviewing science books for The Australian and elsewhere, and decided it was time to do a doctorate. Luckily, I got a scholarship to Deakin University around the time I did a stint there as writer in residence, and eventually carved up my PhD dissertation into three books on different topics. Around that time I became interested in the idea, now so familiar it’s rather boring, of the technological singularity, and wrote the first popular book on the topic, The Spike. Later still, I had a brief excited fit of writing short stories one after the other, and a couple of them were finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon short story award.
So to return <cough> to your question, I guess the best place to start looking at my science fiction is eitherThe Dreaming (as The Dreaming Dragons is now retitled) or at my recent short story collections Uncle Bones, The Qualia Engine and Adrift in the Noösphere. These can all be ordered online from Wildside in the States, who then print and ship them in Australia, which is much faster and probably cheaper than airmailing from the US or Britain. One of the wonders of print on demand technology.
3. What projects and publications do you have up your sleeve for the near future? What fiction writing are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Well, one of the projects I’ve been heavily involved with in the last few years is putting together anthologies of the best Australian critical writing about science fiction for the US publisher Borgo, a division of Wildside Press. I started with two volumes drawn from Australian Science Fiction Review (Second Series)—these areChained to the Alien and Skiffy and Mimesis— with three volumes from Van Ikin’s Science Fiction, A Review of Speculative Literature. One of these has already been published, Warriors of the Tao, and two more are waiting: Xeno Fiction and Fantastika at the Edge of Reality. Meanwhile, I’ve curated three detailed studies by John Boston of the famous Carnell magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, New Worlds, Science Fantasy and SF Adventures, and those will also be forthcoming later this year from Borgo. Oh, and two volumes of my scripts are in the works—Gaia to Galaxy and Restore Point (from BearManor Media). Meanwhile, I’m working with AI expert Dr. Ben Goertzel on a two volume technical study, The Science of Psi, and with my old pal Russell Blackford on a philosophical anthology, Intelligent Machines, Uploaded Minds. It hasn’t left much time for new fiction, but I’m sure I’ll get back to it any day now.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I was absolutely delighted by Peter Carey’s Theft: a love story (2006) which shows how far behind I am in my Australian reading. Recently I had a lot of fun reading and writing an enthusiastic Foreword for a collection of short science fiction by the fairly new Canberra writer Greg Mellor, to be published later this year by Ticonderoga Press.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
No idea. I’ve been living in San Antonio, Texas (seventh largest city in the USA, but smaller than Melbourne or Sydney), for more than eight years, and even with the Internet the sheer size of the world gets in the way. I gain the impression that fantasy and horror have largely saturated Australian fantastika markets, at least among well-heeled publishers, and that science fiction struggles terribly to get through the publishers’ doors. One change I am conscious of is Cat Sparks’ editorial work for Cosmos, where she took over from me as science fiction editor about a year and a half ago and has found some more good writers. And I get the impression that, as in the United States, most of the innovative work is coming from small, brave, underfunded presses. I applaud them all and wish them well.