Famous Reporter/OzLit@VicnetIssue 15, June 1997
I have been devoted to weird and wonderful 'speculative' fiction for more than thirty-five years. I love the big stuff, the cascades of out of this world imagination and the cheeky piss-takes. It is all here in ThylaXene, a collection of ten short stories by three Tasmanian authors.
It's great to see some world class writing in this sweep of genres coming out of Tasmania. Some of the stories would not be out of place in leading magazines such as Analog or Isaac Asimov. I don't know where they get their ideas, and maybe I'm better off not knowing, but it is great hey have them. All the stories are worth reading, but my three favourites are ThylaXene - A History, The Noog - a moral tale and 4 a.m. Immortal. Somehow this works out as a story from each author; pure co-incidence, honest.
ThylaXene - A History by Craig Wellington traces the events leading up to a new species ascendant on Earth. It includes environmental cataclysm and the cloning of extinct species using the new 'Plas-Gene' technologies. A lot of the story takes place in Tasmania after 'Warning Day' when much of the world's environment was destroyed and 71% of the human population died. It even precipitated an exchange of letters in The Mercury about the feasibility of cloning extinct species. This is supposed to be science fiction, right?
The Noog - a moral tale by N. E. Doran is a wonderful imaginative parable about a newly discovered world resisting being forced into a multi-world exploitative, growth orientated, economic system. The whole system is controlled by multi-world corporates. Sound familiar? I could say much more but would probably be sued by our own high priests of economic rationalism. The Noog don't resist by force, but with a wily strategy learned from the imported game of chess. If you enjoy clever tales this will grab you. Maybe Tasmania could adopt the strategy and work toward a new, positive future.
4 a.m. Immortal by Stuart Newman is an in-your-face tale of designer drugs, undercover cops and disposable people. It takes place in a sordid world of computer dominated wizardry evocative of William Gibson's Neuromancer and Count Zero. It's about freedom and saying no and the protagonist does succeed in his own way.
These three stories are all well written with well developed characters and plots. If you like to experience great imagination I recommend the ThylaXene collection for your bedtime reading.
I do have some small criticisms. They are a couple of niggling whirlpools in a sea of exuberance. It could have had another go at proofreading with less reliance on the spell-check. And a bit more of the editing red pen would have helped. Stuart Newman should look up the definition of 'ditch' - guns would get awfully rusty in one. The positives do far outweigh the negatives. Treat yourself.
- Don Thompson
Finally, Hobart produces some Science Fiction. And it's good, too. There is no consistency of story style, which may sound like a criticism but isn't. I mean that the three authors are radically different in their approaches to Science Fiction. Doran's strength lies in his Douglas Adamsesque sense of parody and humour, especially in The Noog - A Moral Tale, in which he conceives a universe-wide fast food chain called "McTucky Hut" and belts out such ripping lines as "... [on Earth] lack of finance is a serious crime". Doran creates an amazing new world filled with gorgeous gossamer plants and Noogs. He draws a parallel between this beautiful world being devoured by progress and this earth of ours. I hope that we can be as courageous as the Noog.
The bulk of the stories are written by Stuart Newman, whose prose is reminiscent of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. His stories contain a dry, black humour, interesting, un-cliched plots and an unpretentious, easy to read prose style. His futuristic 4 a.m. Immortal reminded me of the scary drug/mind f**ks that Philip K. Dick was so fond of portraying, but ends far more happily than a Dick book (sic) if not with life itself then at least with freedom. Newman's other contributions range from the physically bound mystery to the gripping psychological cat-and-mouse games played between the good guy and the very bad guy.
In the short story ThylaXene (the title track and the author's only contribution), Craig Wellington has done a pretty good job of pulling off an ambitious piece of writing. Launched with a human-induced planetary disaster which wipes out large chunks of humanity and other species, this is where all that recent media hype on cloning becomes a scary reality. An attempt to repopulate the Earth with its extinct fluffy ex-inhabitants goes horribly awry and genetically engineered Tassie tigers turn on their re-creators and wreak carnage.
Overall, we think that any Science Fiction fan worth his salt should at least check this book out, not only because it is a Tasmanian production, but because it's imaginative, thought provoking and worth picking up.
Monday, 3rd March, 1997
With a mix of sci-fi, horror and cyberpunk, Hobart publisher Niall Doran is having his second crack at the reading market.
Doran, who contributes three of 10 short stories to this latest work, ThylaXene, wrote and published The Chronological Adventures of Detrius Thesper in 1994. To his gratification, and somewhat to his bemusement, that first effort - a rather frenzied space age comedy - sold in sufficient numbers to cover costs and help him gain a small foothold on the literary ladder.
Now comes ThylaXene and while there are echoes of Detrius in parts of the stories, this collection reveals a darker side to Doran. It also includes stories by writers new to the Tasmanian scene, Craig Wellington and Stuart Newman.
Of the trio, Craig Wellington is probably the most seriously credentialled, having written a children's book (Willis and the Echo) which has been nominated for the 1997 Children's Book of the Year awards plus scripts for television and Triple MMM radio. Newman, a Brit who studied science in Hobart, has written science fiction but has had little public exposure.
The three got together last year with some sort of book in mind. With their backgrounds in science and interest in science fiction, Doran and Newman have moved almost by osmosis into that field of writing. Wellington's work is more general and it's an indication of his wider range that he lists writing screenplays for films as an ambition.
It is Wellington who writes what could be termed the pivotal story of the book and from which the title derives. It's also the most compelling.
ThylaXene, like the rest of the collection, is set in future time, when humankind has almost brought the planet to it's knees through environmental vandalism. However, the planet strikes back, in one short sharp moment in a day subsequently known as Warning Day, killing off much of the world population and bringing about the start of its environmental restoration.
In the wake of Warning Day neo-species arise, many of which have mutated from extinct and current life forms. One of these is the Tasmanian Tiger, the thylacine - or as it is called in it's new, stronger and more aggressive form, thylaXene.
ThylaXene is the terrifying result of what happens when things go wrong and Craig Wellington builds on this premise in (a) well-paced and plausible fashion. Although it's his one contribution to the entire book, it is the story around which the others revolve.
Doran and Newman range across the new world, space, cyber spectrum and while the quality of the final mix is uneven, the stories that work have some good things going for them.
I found Doran's introductory piece, Adrift, and Newman's, 4 a.m. Immortal, the pick of the bunch. Both were on the short side of short and as a result had a tightness and discipline that suited the writing form.
Niall Doran departs from his more usual space junkie style in Adrift to write about strange doings on the high seas that uses horror as his motivation. The water summons up an evil atmosphere with a dab hand and allows the tension to mount before revealing a very neat climax.
Newman uses the drug culture and a sort of Blade Runner-ish scenario to backdrop his 4 a.m. Immortal. It's a well devised plot and despite the brevity of the story it's main characters have been fleshed out and imbued with considerable strength. This is a story that with a little more work might well slot into script form and is Newman's most assertive piece of writing.
These three works are the highs. Some of the others aren't so strong and this is really more a matter of style than substance. Doran and Newman let their writing become a little flabby and overly technical at times and this would have been overcome had more attention been given to tightening up some of the loose passages.
There are stories in this collection which strike the right balance, and if not all turn out wildly successful, they make interesting, enjoyable and occasionally spine-chilling reading. And some are set exclusively in Tasmania, which gives them that ripping down-home feel.
Doran has been racing about the countryside promoting the book and slotting it into shops and has been delighted with pre-launch sales.
"It's taken off remarkably quickly," he said. "We've been selling it at the Salamanca Market as well as through the book stores and we're heartened by how well it's going."
A research scientist doing a PhD at the University of Tasmania, Doran admits to having been a closet author for much of his life. After writing his first book almost three years ago he went on to publish it under his own banner, Desdichado Publishing (desdichado is the word Ivanhoe had emblazoned on his shield after the crusades and is taken to mean, disinherited or rootless, Niall Doran thinks it apt for a self publisher).
A feature of ThylaXene is its stylish cover, designed by Kai Howells.
Niall Doran plans to keep on writing, both in short and longer form, and says he enjoyed bringing the horror element to this current work. ThylaXene will have its official launch this week at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
- Patsy Crawford
Recognize the word? Thylaxene.
No, you wouldn’t. Unless you were familiar
But, you’ve already heard me
bemoan the wealth of foreign authors who are
I see by a show of hands that
most of you want to hear about the
The title story of this collection follows the attempt to resurrect an extinct species, the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, and the horrifying results carry genuine fear. It leaves you with an interesting question: Are animals more frightening when their thoughts are a mystery to us? Or is it the possiblity that they have started to think like us? It’s a skin-crawler.
The scares don’t stop there.
“Adrift” is an unnerving little bit of
That’s quite enough dwelling
on shocks and shivers; let’s turn to a
Actually, there are a number
of shorts in THYLAXENE that
Why does THYLAXENE succeed
where others have failed?
- Copyright © 1999 Lisa DuMond