Australian Speculative Fiction: writers, editors, publishers
Interview by Ben Peek
Robert Hoge is one of the two new editors at Aurealis. A first issue will appear sometime this year.
1) Having recently taken over the editor chores (with Ben Payne) for Aurealis, how have you approached forming a vision for a magazine that, ten years ago, was a strong force in the genre, but has in recent years lost some of its power and market presence?
Aurealis is still a strong force in the genre in Australia. But in the past 10 years we've moved from a market with (essentially) only two outlets to one with seven or more magazines publishing multiple issues each year. Plus there are between three to five anthologies being published most years, so there's an obvious diluting of the 'power' and 'prestige' that comes with being only one of two kids on the block.
That said, the approach Ben and I took when pitching for the role was that we want to make Aurealis the pre-eminent Australian market -- the first choice for the best writers to send their best stories. To do that we'll have to deliver a quality product with a strong voice, that gets widely read, widely reviewed and widely noticed. I'm looking forward to taking a (healthy and productive) challenge up to the other prominent local markets in that regard.
2) There's been a lot of talk on this blog about committee editing producing a certain blandness when compared to a single editors vision. With two editors, I think, you're caught somewhere between the two. What's your opinion on both, and how you think this will impact the content you buy for Aurealis? (Also, and I might not be correct in this, so feel free to say so, but I've been under the impression that the magazine is still under ownership of Dirk Strasser--has he placed any guidelines on the work you can take if this is true?)
The potential danger in editing by committee is that stories get chosen because everyone involved regards them as 'okay' rather than having people make bold and risky choices. As a reader I'd much rather pick up a magazine that had two stories I absolutely adored and four I didn't think much of rather than six stories I thought were just 'okay.' But I don't think either approach -- committee or single editor -- is inherently better. And both systems are producing some good results here.
Ben and I have critiqued a lot of work together in the Vision Writers Group, so we've got a good sense of our matching likes and dislikes. And we've also got a good respect for where our tastes differ. That's important because it allows us to have a good discussion regarding the mix of stories in each issue.
I imagine there'll be some stories in each issue that one of us believes in more than the other. And that's the way it should be.
Dirk still runs Chimaera Publications, which owns and publishes Aurealis, and is moving into small press publishing with their first title being Richard Harland's Black Crusade. We pitched a strong vision to him when we applied for the editorship and he hasn't placed any constraints on the type of work we publish.
3) The blog talk from these interviews is about the quality of the fiction being produced in the Australian scene. What's your take on it?
There's a huge amount of superb speculative fiction being produced in Australia at the moment. The amount of quality material coming out from established and from newer authors who arrived on the scene after Aussiecon 3 and others who have come up through Clarion South is astounding.
I don't have much time for people who bemoan the fact that the explosion in authors and in markets has meant there's some stories getting published that they don't think worthy. A fair opinions, but why dwell?
I'm much more inclined to judge the quality of a country's output not by the lowest common denominator but by the highest. Let's talk about the profound rather than the mundane. Let's talk about the great works -- the ones that are deservedly getting published in professional markets overseas and the ones that are getting included in various 'best-ofs' and most importantly the ones that are getting talked about as being something special. Any country that can over three years produce works like 'Louder Echo', The Etched City and 'Singing My Sister Down' is doing pretty well in my book.
For every story or author that someone doesn't believe worthy of publication, I'll counter them with an alphabetical list of stories by everyone from Battersby to Westwood and back again. We have plenty of people producing great stuff.
I believe in Australian speculative fiction and I believe in the people writing it.
4) You're dead. You remember that TV series you really liked in the 70s, and how they later made a movie with a whale in it? Well, whales aren't that friendly. Later, when you got to Heaven (belief being not that important here) you saw God. You said?
So, what do you think about the quality of fiction being published in Australia at the moment? *g*
5) Favourite swear word?
Bollocks. I have a wide taste in swear words but I've got a particular fondness for polysyllabic swear words.
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