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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Currently reading - Warriors of the Tao

Warriors of the Tao: The Best of Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature, edited by Damien Broderick and Van Ikin, contains (as you might expect) a selection of pieces from Ikin's long-running magazine/literary journal Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature. It is not necessarily the very best work that has ever appeared in the journal; indeed, the editors hold out the possibility of a follow-up volume. Still, it's a strong body of body of work.

I have a great deal of affection for the journal and its editor - this is where I had my first break, my first serious pieces accepted for publication when I was a young scholar still fresh from my initial undergraduate study at the University of Newcastle (where I am again now ... having come full circle in that sense, albeit playing a very different role).

The book takes its title from one of my pieces (first published in a 1984 issue of the journal), which reviews David Lake's The Gods of Xuma and discusses Lake's work more generally. This piece opens the book, following separate introductions by its editors. I have a couple of other relatively brief contributions (a short article on sex in science fiction, and a review of Greg Egan's Diaspora).

I am also represented as a participant in an email interview (or "colloquium") with Darko Suvin, which was published as (relatively) recently as 2001. The other qestioners are Van Ikin and Sylvia Kelso.

This interview with Suvin, possibly the world's leading science fiction scholar, is quite a coup. It may be the most important piece in the entire book, and it takes up 45 pages of the volume's 300 or so. Suvin most certainly reveals a great deal about his background and his thinking, though I must say, reading the interview again ten years later, that he shows a tendency to pontificate - and almost harangue - his interviewers/readers. His answers to questions are very long and sometimes incorporate large chunks of previous publications. There is little sense of explaining and reflecting, as opposed to laying down how it is. I can see this approach turning off some readers.

A softer approach might have been more persuasive to those who don't already share Suvin's brands of literary theory and Marxist political philosophy. To be fair, though, you really have to appreciate Suvin for the amount of unpaid time that he must have put into this "colloquium". It would have been many, many hours' work.

For me, the highlights of the book are actually Terry Dowling's insightful discussion of Samuel R. Delany's Driftglass and his lengthy analysis of the work of Cordwainer Smith, Bruce Gillespie's thorough discussion of Philip K. Dick's non-sf novels, and a fascinating discussion of Gerald Murnane's The Plains by Yvonne Rousseau. Also notable is Sean McMullen's well-researched article on mid-twentieth-century Australian science fiction, though much of this is also available in reworked form (with input from McMullen's co-authors) in Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction.

(Then again, even the Kindle edition of Strange Constellations is very expensive, whereas you can pick up a Kindle version of Warriors of the Tao for just a few dollars.)

In all, a strong selection of work covering nearly three decades (the earliest piece was published in 1982, and the most recent in 2008). Van Ikin should be proud of his legacy over that time, and I do hope that he and Broderick are able to produce that second volume.

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