Genre fiction has long been snubbed as inferior to serious literary fiction in Australia. This seems to be shifting, at least incrementally. Romance fiction – which sells like hot cakes – now makes the occasional appearance on writers festival programs, while experimental novels by authors Jennifer Mills, Jane Rawson, Michael Winkler, Robbie Arnott and Laura Jean McKay have made the cut on recent Miles Franklin award long and short lists.
Adelaide author Sean Williams writes across the genres of hard science fiction, space opera, speculative fiction, fantasy and romance. With more than 50 books of short stories, novels, poetry and series for adults and young readers to his name, Williams is a New York Times bestselling author whose work has been adapted for both the small and big screen. When he’s not writing, Williams teaches creative writing. He’s also a musician. He might be the most prolific Australian writer you’ve never heard of.
In Uncanny Angles, Williams’ new collection of 14 short stories, the author flexes his genre muscles. Like a mad scientist mixing volatile elements in a test tube, he blends genres and plays with tropes simply to see what happens. His stories effervesce with what-ifs. As he says in the introduction, “my intention is always to leave the reader seeing things differently. From a new and uncanny angle.”
A man encounters the last Martian on Earth in Antarctica; a stroke survivor loses a letter of the alphabet, leaving a gaping hole in his vocabulary and comprehension; a lovesick young man slays a dragon caught in a giant spider web; a collective consciousness emerges from the millions of brain cells moving through mass teleportation. Williams has an obsession with matter transmitters, the speculative technology that allows people and things to “dematerialise from one place and appear in another”, often across multiple dimensions. While this preoccupation appears in half of the stories here, Williams spares us dull tech geekery, instead applying his imagination to the social and emotional repercussions of moving through time and space.
Each story is prefaced by a “behind-the-scenes sketch outlining its origin or personal significance”, which is neither necessary nor all that interesting but may appeal to Williams’ fans, and each concludes with an invitation to “choose-your-own-adventure” and skip the linear sequence of stories, a cutesy touch that adds to the all-ages vibe of the collection.
Wakefield Press, 332pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 16, 2022 as "Uncanny Angles, Sean Williams".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription