Stephen Dedman grew up (though many would dispute this) on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, far enough away from any bookshops that he had to make up his own science fiction stories. He is the author of the novels The Art of Arrow Cutting, Shadows Bite, Foreign Bodies, and Shadowrun: A Fistful of Data, and more than 120 short stories published in an eclectic range of magazines and anthologies and reprinted in his collections The Lady of Situationsand Never Seen by Waking Eyes. He has won two Aurealis Awards and an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, and been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Seiun Award, the Sidewise Award, the Spectrum Award, and a sainthood. He teaches creative writing at the University of Western Australia, and has been an associate editor of Eidolon, the fiction editor of Borderlands, the book buyer for most of Perth’s science fiction bookshops, an actor, a game designer, a book reviewer and an experimental subject. He enjoys reading, travel, movies, talking to cats, and startling people.
You were one of the editors of Borderlands, an Australian speculative fiction magazine that featured some of the scene’s brightest talents. What do you see as the legacy of the magazine? What are some of the highlights of your time as editor?
I don’t know that the magazine has had that much of a legacy: yes, we published work by incredibly talented writers who have since gone on to have novels and collections published, but I don’t doubt that those writers would have continued to produce excellent work whether they’d been published in Borderlands or not. If the magazine encouraged some readers to look out for and buy other work by those authors, then I think that’s a good legacy. The highlights of my time as editor were when pieces came in that were so good that I was amazed that they hadn’t been sold to a better-paying market: Rjurik Davidson’s ‘The Fear of White’ comes instantly to mind, but there were several others.
You’re also known for your exceptional short stories, with international recognition and a number of award nominations and wins. Do you have anyone you consider a major influence when it comes to the short form, or whose style you aspired to?
Major influences? Ray Bradbury, whose story ‘The Veldt’ was read to me when I was about nine. A couple of years later, I discovered the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Then, when I started high school, it was Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, and Theodore Sturgeon. Outside the genre, John Mortimer’s Rumpole stories. In all these cases, what I aspired to was the emotional impact of their best stories, rather than their style – though they did teach me a lot about story structure, perspective, and even language.
‘What Rough Beast?’ is a black comedy set about forty years in the future in Balgorup, a (fictitious) former logging town far enough inland that it hasn’t yet become a suburb of Perth. Two brothers who’ve inherited a collection of guns and manually operated petrol-powered cars – now illegal – secretly run a business letting city dwellers drive around their property and shoot at their livestock. When one of their customers shoots himself, the older brother decides the safest course is to hide the body in the bush. When it’s discovered, the death is blamed on the legendary Beast of Balgorup, and tourists flock to the town. Business dies off in the winter, until the brother kills another customer and hides his body, until he’s keeping the town alive by killing off an outsider every few months.
I hate to admit it, but most of the Australian stuff I’ve been enjoying lately hasn’t been sf or fantasy – it’s crime fiction by Peter Temple, David Whish-Wilson, Shane Maloney and others. The last Australian sf novel I remember loving was Kim Westwood’s THE COURIER’S NEW BICYCLE, and the last fantasy, Lee Battersby’s THE MARCHING DEAD (I haven’t yet gotten around to reading Rjurik Davidson’s UNWRAPPED SKY). And Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet Press have been bringing out some excellent single-author collections.
Very much so. Advances and word rates haven’t kept up with the cost of living – if anything, they’ve gone down, along with print runs. I used to be able to pay my mortgage just writing book reviews for The West Australian, and devote the rest of my time to writing fiction, but I no longer expect to make enough from writing to be able to do it full-time for very long, and I think that’s increasingly going to be the case for most writers. I keep receiving invitations to write for anthologies, but few of them pay enough to buy me a good pizza. So I write very little fiction on spec any more, and don’t even take requests unless I get an idea that I like enough within a day or two.
Five years from now… I really have no idea what I’ll be writing or publishing. I’m not planning a sequel to WHAT ROUGH BEAST?; I don’t have any plans for Mage and Takumo beyond SAVAGE GODS, the sequel to SHADOWS BITE; I haven’t sold my crime thriller IMMUNITY yet, and I’ll wait to see how NORTH OF THE DRAGONLANDS is received before I decide whether to write any more stories in that setting. I’ll probably continue writing a few short stories a year, and I’ll probably still own and read more printed books than e-books, though if I have to move house too often, I may even change my mind about that.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.
To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012.