Summer in the southern hemisphere is fire time.
Managed fire can be a blessing, clearing out choking undergrowth and removing pestilent rodents. Out of control fire is a different entity altogether. In the summer of 2019/2020 nearly the entire continent of Australia burned. Half a billion animals lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat and agricultural land was scoured. Some of the fires were human caused. Others were the result of climate change—humanity’s greedy exploitation of resources—and decades of drought. Even after the fires are out, the land still suffers.
Thursday 3rd September, 2020. B-Cubed Press has proudly published Oz is Burning, and anthology featuring some of Australia’s most prominent speculative fiction writers.
The trade paperback and e-book are available worldwide on book retailers’ websites such as Amazon for a suggested retail price of $13.50 (paperback), $7.00 (e-book).
Authors involved are having a Facebook event on September 13, Sunday, 6 pm U.S. West Coast time. https://www.facebook.com/events/805320396904253/?source=6&ref_notif_type=plan_admin_added&action_history=null
And now let’s hear from three of the authors, all connected with Book View Café.
How did Oz is Burning come about?
Phyllis Irene Radford: During the Australian summer of 2019-2020, then Book View Café member Gillian Polack blogged about the tragedy of the continent-wide wild fires. One of the little advertised losses during this period was that people had stopped buying books because they were too busy trying to save Australia, so local authors lost income along with land and homes and their health from the smoke. She suggested an anthology about the fires to draw attention to the problem and to give a little bit of money to the authors.
I had contacts with B-Cubed Press where I had already edited 4 anthologies. This small press always donates a share of each sale to charity—usually ACLU from the political satire books—and worked with the authors to find WIRES—NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. https://www.wires.org.au/donate/emergency-fund
I along with several of the authors have donated our shares to this charity as well. This is a cause and a collection of stories that we believe in.
Gillian Polack: I live in Canberra, which is not only the capital of Australia, it was on the edge of the bushfires last summer. At one point all the major roads out were shut and the planes were grounded due to the fires. Fortunately, this was brief. For us, the fires finally died two weeks before COVID-19 hit us. The world had lost interest when Australia was still burning.
While the world lost interest, BVC and its readers did not. I reported through the blog and… Phyl has explained the rest.
Alma Alexander: When Australia went up in smoke at the turn of the year, it was a horrifying thing to watch, from all the way over here. The anthology was a heartfelt response by the writing community to a tragedy that was unfolding before our eyes; when the idea was proposed, to give an outlet to our grief, to document this event and fix it in memory so that it would not be easily forgotten or pushed aside – that is what we do, we writers. We give voice to things that are hard to speak aloud.
How was I affected by the fires?
Gillian: Some of my friends lost a lot. Some spent their summer dealing with the fires on a day by day basis. Me, I’m sensitive to bushfire smoke. Canberra attracted the smoke and I live in a valley: from memory, the highest particle count (EPA PM 2.5 AQI) was over 11,000. Right now, as I type, the sensor nearest me says that the EPA PM 2.5 AQI is 11.
I was confined to the area around my air purifier, all summer. I was evacuated in January, when the smoke was just too much. I stayed with my mother and only emerged twice in that time, for Melbourne had smoke, too. Melbourne had less smoke, and my little air purifier and my mother’s air conditioning meant I was better. My lungs have nearly recovered. I was one of the lucky ones. Four hundred and forty-five people died from that smoke. One died when she left a plane the day before I was evacuated.
So many of my friends and their friends and family were affected. I talked about it a lot, and my friends at BVC listened and supported me. Phyll took it one step further.
The call for stories taught me a lot about how different people experience and understand crises. By the time B-Cubed called for stories, I’d been stuck in small spaces for months. I only had two weeks between the bushfires and Covid-19, so I’m still stuck in small spaces, in fact. My story is about small spaces.
Phyllis: Living in the soggy Pacific Northwest, I personally was not affected by the fires. But I have friends and colleagues who wept and bled all over the internet with their tragedies and losses. Their eloquent prose and poetry born of grief and pain touched me deeply. I wanted to help but didn’t know how until my friend Gillian Polack came up with the idea. I plunged in with my whole heart and mind with no reservations.
Alma: Indirectly, from afar. Having experienced some side effects of wildfires which were NOT on my doorstep—the smoky choking air, the dirty sky, the faded sun—I could only imagine what was happening on the ground in Australia. And I kept on seeing unspeakable images, of destroyed habitat, dead animals, people in pitch darkness in an hour that said it was mid-morning standing up to their knees in the ocean with a wall of fire behind them…and then I heard from people I *knew* about how they were driven from or had even lost their homes…. Every fiber of my being was reacting to this. And I was so far away. And there was nothing I could do. Or could I…?
What do I hope the anthology will achieve?
Pyllis: First off, I hope that each of my authors has gained some recognition in and outside of Australia and benefits in their careers. I did it for them as much as any one thing. I hope that the WIRES charity is able to use our small contribution to benefit the healing of the animals they were able to rescue and restore habitat. And mostly I pray that increased awareness of the wildfire problem worldwide helps us all do a small part in reducing fires in the future. Too many of them are caused by careless humans. The ones in California often stem from the uncaring utility corporations that neglect their equipment. Climate change is another factor that is going to take a global effort to heal. If we each do our own little bit, the tiny puzzle pieces can grow into a much bigger picture and brighter future.
Alma: It stands as a reminder of what is past, as a warning in the moment of time we are living right now, and as a bright beacon of danger of what might yet come. Sometimes all that we can do – individually, each one of us – is to try and add our voices, to keep the story going, to ensure it keeps being told, that it is not, that it is NEVER, forgotten. This anthology is a memorial and a call to action. It speaks in many voices and the voices say, *remember*. I am proud to be one of those voices.
Gillian: Understanding. Shared wisdom. I’m hoping that US readers will discover some rather wonderful Australian writers.
I also feel that writers are going to need more skills at handling the impossible that they themselves have experienced. I wish this were not so. This anthology helps us see what fiction writers can do with disaster. We don’t have to sit back and accept it. We can challenge it and explain it and even help ourselves recover from it.
I once gave tea and supper to a writing group that was made up of Holocaust survivors. They were learning to turn experience into story. It saddened me then that they needed this skill, and it saddens me now that we need it as well.
The contributors in this interview:
Phyllis Irene Radford is the author, under six pen names, of more than 40 books, both from traditional publisher DAW Books in New York and independently through Book View Café. She has edited more than a dozen anthologies, and numerous books for BVC members and B-Cubed Press.
Gillian Polack is an Australian writer and also an historian. This means people think of her as a science fiction or fantasy writer, or they think of her as a Medieval historian. She likes to confuse them by mixing the two from time to time.
Alma Alexander is a novelist, anthologist, short story writer. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, but her connection to this anthology is the fact that she spent six years living in the Antipodes (in New Zealand). She knows that part of the world, and loves it.