Another Sydney Writers’ Festival comes to an end

This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival came to an end today after six days of all things literary featuring a broad range of storytellers from May 20 to 26.

Various talks, workshops and interviews all over Sydney stimulated avid readers to step out of their comfort zones and expand their range of literary interests.

The “Speculative Fiction” discussion was held at the Philharmonia Studio at Walsh Bay on a scorching Saturday on May 25. Lines outside the studio were so long, volunteers informed us to curve into what became a 50-metre line of eager visitors.

Prominent ‘speculative fiction’ authors Lauren Beukes, Scott Westerfeld and David M Henley l

The discussion was between three prominent ‘speculative fiction’ authors: Lauren Beukes, Scott Westerfeld and David M Henley. Here they worked to debunk myths, particularly about the science fiction (or sci-fi) genre, and its common stereotypes, one involving the term ‘nerdiness’.

Beukes, who recently wrote controversial The Shining Girls – a crime novel involving femicide, apartheid and gender issues in South Africa – spoke about how the majority of people today misconceive speculative fiction to incorporate technology as its major theme. Instead, she believes speculative as opposed to realist modes of narrative lead to “more fun, more engaging and more light-hearted” storylines.

Westerfeld, who writes teenage fiction, explained how sci-fi has resurged in recent years due to the creation of mainstream publications like Twilight and Game of Thrones. He says that sci-fi now dominates the publishing market due to the nature of teenagers who are still discovering the world and spend much time speculating how the world could be different.

Henley agrees that sci-fi is ‘hyper-relevant’ in today’s technology-obsessed world:  “If you’re not writing about technology, you aren’t writing about what is happening now.” He tells how he became focused on sci-fi as an author due to his enjoyment of the speculative fiction he grew up reading.

Asked what speculative fiction actually meant, each author on the panel agreed that although sci-fi dominated the current culture, there was no specific definition of what either term entails.

Beukes said that once an author has written a novel, the readers themselves should decide what genre the text fits into. And she adds that one strict genre label is not a useful way of categorising a book. One novel could fit into a range of different genres so Beukes argues that the term ‘genre’ should be replaced with ‘tags’ – much like Instagram tagging  – to make novels easier to locate and reach a wider audience.

The discussion was a great insight into how authors t define sci-fi and why it is so important that this great genre stays alive in literature. There was no mention by any of the panelists of concepts commonly associated with sci-fi: futurism, robots and apocalyptic worlds. Perhaps the genre is worth exploring after all.

For more information, visit the Sydney Writers’ Festival website.

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