Sun 3 Jun 2012
Guy Salvidge was born in England in 1981 and moved to Western Australia in 1990. He studied English at Curtin University, majoring in Literature and Creative Writing, and graduated in 2002 with Honours. Completing a Graduate Diploma in Education in 2005, Guy embarked on a career as a high-school English teacher. His first novel, The Kingdom of Four Rivers, was published by Equilibrium Books in 2009. His second novel, Yellowcake Springs, won the 2011 IP Picks Award for Best Fiction and was published by Glass House Books in the same year. Yellowcake Springs was recently shortlisted for the 2012 Norma K Hemming Award.
1. Your second novel Yellowcake Springs has been shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming Award. Tell us a bit about the book and themes that have caught the judges eye.
Yellowcake Springs is a dystopian novel in the tradition of 1984, but my work has also been heavily influenced by SF writers like Philip K Dick and J G Ballard. Set around 50 years from now in Western Australia, the novel depicts a nightmarish scenario in which a Chinese company has set up a nuclear reactor complex north of Perth in the fictional town of Yellowcake Springs. The plot concerns an attempt by the environmentalist (or ‘mental’) group Misanthropos to destroy the reactor. The narrative follows the lives of three people: Sylvia Baron, an advertising rep in Yellowcake Springs whose husband is involved in the sabotage attempt; Orion Saunders, a down-at-heel vagabond from the depopulated inland ‘Belt; and Jiang Wei, a Chinese man sent to Australia to work in the reactor complex.
My primary aim in the writing of Yellowcake Springs is to lay bare the utter folly of using nuclear power, something that is not as
far-fetched in Western Australia today as one might think. A 2005 report to then PM John Howard recommended precisely this strategy. Another concern is the increasing role that Chinese companies are playing in mining operations in Western Australia. Instead of demonising the Chinese people themselves as an alien other, I chose to write this section of the novel from the perspective of a young Chinese man, Jiang Wei. The novel explicitly depicts a vast gulf in social class between the elite coastal dwellers and the impoverished inlanders. The future of sexuality is also explored in the world of Controlled Dreaming State, an immersive, online world where one can enact every fantasy or situation they choose, something that would not only be extremely addictive, but also potentially causing people to disengage from ‘real’ life.
2. How long have you been writing and how did you get into the sf scene? What have you found the most beneficial or worthwhile?
I’ve been writing fairly seriously since I was around 14 or 15, and I’m nearly 31 now so I’ve been at it for a long time. For many years I was a SF reader without having any engagement with the scene here in WA, despite the fact that I worked in the now-defunct Supernova Books from 2001-03. I started up my wordpress blog around four years ago, and that enabled me to engage with the community a little more, and eventually some of these reviews made it onto ASiF. Through my interest in the works of Philip K Dick, I came into contact with Australia’s grandfather of fandom, Bruce Gillespie. A big thing for me was attending last year’s Natcon in Perth, where I met the late Paul Haines for the first time, and I attended Swancon again in 2012. I also joined the Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction group in 2011. The most worthwhile about the scene for me is feeling that I’m not, in fact, operating in a vacuum, that there are other people around who share similar views and interests to myself.
3. What are you working on now and what do you have your eye on to write in the future?
I’ve been working on two projects recently: the sequel to Yellowcake Springs, currently entitled Yellowcake Summer. I started writing that in the summer holidays of ’11/’12 and I suspect it’ll take me another year to have the novel in reasonable shape. The other project was a short story, “The Dying Rain”, for an anthology called Tobacco Stained Sky, which is to be a collection of ‘post-apocalyptic noir’. The book is forthcoming from Another Sky Press in the US. I’m toying with the idea of trying to write a crime fiction novel without SF elements, but that’s a couple of years off as yet. I also want to get something published in one of the Australian small-press anthologies in the not-too-distant future, so I thought I might have a crack at Ticonderoga’s Dreaming of Djinn, if I manage to produce something in time.
4. You are a reviewer at ASif! – what are you reading interests and what do you look for in a good Australian book?
The same thing I look for in any book: a muscular narrative, lean writing, and a tinge of darkness. I tend to have two reading rules,
even though I get roundly criticised for them. Rule #1 is that I don’t read anything published before 1918, and Rule #2 is that I rarely read anything over 350 pages in length. I prefer novels over anthologies, but I’m partial to single author collections. I don’t read fat fantasy and I don’t read space opera either. What I’m after is intelligent, thought-provoking fiction, not escapism. I’m reading less speculative fiction than ever, which isn’t to say that I don’t want to read it. Books I’ve enjoyed so far in 2012 include the crime novels of Megan Abbott, Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to respond to this, seeing as I’m new to the scene myself, but it seems to me that while there is some excellent speculative fiction being published in Australia, distribution remains a serious problem. Excluding a handful of specialist bookstores scattered across the country, most of what passes for a Science Fiction and Fantasy section in the average bookstore these days is wall to wall epic fantasy and paranormal romance. Bookstores like Notions Unlimited are shining lights in this regard, and we need to ensure that the physical bookstore doesn’t disappear altogether over the next decade
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1st June to 8th June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at: