Over the past forty years, Rosaleen Love has published on Australian science and society, both in non-fiction, and in fiction. She has published two collections of short fiction with the Women’s Press, UK,The Total Devotion Machine, and Evolution Annie. Her most recent books are Reefscape. Reflections on the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney and Washington, The Traveling Tide, short fiction, with Aqueduct Press, Seattle, and Secret Lives of Books, Twelfth Planet Press. She is the recipient of the Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian Science fiction, an award that keeps her writing out of fear of what happens when you stop.
Your latest release is a wonderful collection of short stories as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” range. What are some if the biggest changes you have seen in the Aussie scene between now, and the first time you had something published?
I began writing short fiction in the 1980s when the print scene was flourishing. My first two short stories were published in mainstream Australian literary magazines, Westerly and Overland(from memory). George Turner gave me a prize in a West Australian convention competition, I think that was the first sf success I had. My path into publishing was the conventional dead-tree route, pre-internet. In the 1980s came the explosion of feminist publishing and specialist feminist presses, including the Women’s Press, who published my first two collections. The Women’s Press editor Sarah Le Fanu had a special interest in genre fiction, and encouraging women to bring a feminist perspective to liberating detective and sf stories. In 1994 in Melbourne we celebrated women’s writing with the 6th International Feminist Book Fair organized by Susan Hawthorne and others. It was exciting to discover the global range of women’s writing, and I gained a sense of an international audience for my writing. In Melbourne, a group of women sf writers read and encouraged each other, in events organized by Sybylla and Spinifex Press, our local feminist publishers. Our work was included in the many Australian anthologies both mainstream and sf, anthologies that flourished at the time, especially the burst of publishing that marked the Bicentennial of Australia in 1988. Of course, science fiction flourishes still, as do Australian sf anthologies, but I think back then it was all exploding around me, and I was secure in my sense of who I was writing for.
You’ve recently had some of your back catalogue made available as ebooks. How did you find this process, and what sort of possibilities do you see this technology opening up for yourself and other writers?
My collections The Total Devotion Machine and Evolution Annie will shortly be gaining a new life as ebooks with Twelfth Planet Press. The Traveling Tide is also out as an ebook with Aqueduct Press, Seattle. It’s a new world out there, and finally, I’m in it. As a reader, I am ambivalent about the ebook. I enjoy its ease of delivery, I enjoy the process of reading, if what I want to do it to read in a straight forward way from beginning to end. For a short story, that works just fine. But often, with a novel, I want to flick backward to see where a clue was first inserted into the text, and more easily reread what came before in the light of what comes after. So I’m still set in some of the old ways.
I think the internet has revolutionised science writing, of which I used to do quite a lot. Now the juxtaposition of text and image, often video image, in blogs written by scientists who are doing the work, accomplishes so much more than the static magazine article. Part of my life’s work has been overtaken, and I’m not sorry. The outcome is better, except in the areas of climate science denialism, and anti-vaccination propoganda, which us more rational science writers of the 1980s did not see coming. Now the internet spreads the rubbish faster.
In the last Snapshot you said that the novel will always be beyond you. Has this changed, and do you have any plans for a novel length work? Or, is there anything else you are working on?
I don’t ever think I’ll write a novel. When I see true novelists deep at work, I know they have a talent I lack. It’s as if they have the plot line clear to the end, in their head. I know that Sylvia Kelso, for example, can type out practically a chapter of a novel in a night, as if it’s risen fully formed from the depths of her mind. I spend forever shuffling a few sentences around before I get going.
I have a project going, in which I am trying to capitalise on my strengths. I am writing pieces of 350-400 words, aiming for a small but perfectly formed short story each time. This is the kind of thing I think I do best, writing that takes off from a current event or a science-related idea, and plays around, running to who knows where with it. I certainly don’t know where I’m going to end when I start. Of course, this project lends its very well to blog format, but I want to have a body of work before I start a public version of my own Rosie Project. (One of the names which I go by is Rosie, so I’m entitled to say that). The writing needs to appear to depart spontaneously from the fizz of a bright idea, and so it might eventuate as if so, , but initially the pieces needs the revision and polish that comes from writing something and leaving to ripen for a while.
What Australian works have you read recently that you’ve enjoyed?
I would have to nominate The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion, though this global best-seller is hardly a secret discovery of mine. One of the reasons I like the book is its seamless incorporation of both science (genetics) and social science (psychology) into the story. No clunkiness, no expository lumps. The scientists come over as scientists and they are shown plausibly at work. They must daily cope with the Dean, and endlessly apply for research grants.The Rosie Project is an example of science fiction so mainstream that non sf readers won’t even know they are reading sf. I rather like the trickster element in that. I am also a keen student of the cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, who used to supply the daily cartoon for Crikey.com.au, but who has now been lured away to the Guardian Australia. His cartoon strips are miniature short stories, illuminating current events from the perspective of a baffled group of endangered Australian marsupials. It was First Dog who brought us the “Hug a Climate Scientist Day” and the ABC interpretative dance bandicoot. We all need an interpretative dance bandicoot in our lives, to render the incomprehensible even more so. Way to go. Spread the bafflement around. I’ve been reading the Twelfth Planet Series to keep up with what’s current in the sf short story, and I’m finding more sf/horror than I’d like. As I explain elsewhere, somewhere, there has been too much real horror in my life for me to be interested in fabricating the unreal stuff. I prefer the sf/fun combination.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work?
Probably not. I work the same way as ever.
What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Se answer above, small pieces that collect to a larger view.
In five years from now, my main ambition is to still be alive. If I’m spared, as my Irish auntie used to say, I’ll be happy to read anything.
At the last Continuum, Lucy Sussex has challenged me to write a sf story about the viola da gamba (I am a keen amateur player of the instrument) and ever since she put down the gauntlet, I’ve been brooding about it. Then I realised, I already had written such a piece, back in 1995, in a Magazine Aedon. It’s good to be asked questions. They help me remember what I’ve written. Then I can re-read, and remember where I’ve been.