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Unfolding republican futures

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Australia’s emerging republican speculative fiction genre includes a number of examples where the story unfolds in an Australian republican future. In an effort to encourage this style of fiction the National Republican Short Story Competition was established in 2009. The competition continues again this year. The Third National Republican Short Story Competition opened on 1 July 2011 and will close on 6 November 2011. The theme this year is ‘Citizen or Subject’, writes Glenn Davies.


The difference between citizen and subject has often been glibly said to be that a citizen has rights whereas a subject has privileges. A subject owes their allegiance to a sovereign and is governed by that sovereign’s laws whereas a citizen owes allegiance to the community and is entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protections. The difference between citizen and subject lies in where an individual places their allegiance: subjects (to a sovereign) and citizens (to a state; to a republic). An exploration of our Oaths of Allegiance raises the question of whether the Australian people are still subjects of the British monarch. 2011 short stories will explore the theme of allegiance in an Australian republican future.

A popular way to show republican imaginations of the future is within the framework of constitutional debates. Speculative fiction novels that are set in an Australian republican future include Rodney Hall’s (1987) Kisses of the Enemy, Camilla Nelson’s comic 1998 novel Perverse Acts, and Ken Harris’s (2005) Pathway to Treason. However these are as much political thrillers or constitutional whodunits that play out within the settings of future Australian republican governments as they are an exploration of Australia’s republican future.

Republican settings rather than republican political machinations come more to the fore in Valda Marshall’s (2009) The First President. The year is 1920 and The Prince of Wales is visiting Adelaide as part of his royal tour of Australia, and the royal party is staying at Adelaide’s Government House. Extra house staff are hired for the important visit, and Lily, a beautiful young country girl, is one of them. When Lily comes face to face with the Prince, history is forever changed. Fast forward to the year 2016. Noelene Jones, one of Australia’s most celebrated opera singers, has decided to retire from the world of entertainment and is looking forward to the quiet life. She decides that her first project as a regular citizen will be to renovate and bring back to life her grandmother’s dilapidated cottage in the Adelaide Hills.

In the Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine Aurealis, 20/21, April 1998 a special double issue speculated on a variety of possible futures of an Australian republic. SF is, after all, the ‘literature of ideas’. It is within the pages of Aurealis that an Australian republican speculative fiction genre appears to finally emerge. In Robert Hood’s, ‘Occasional Demons’ he writes:

…. I toss the antique magazine back to him. “Impossible. She’s been dead for what? A decade or so?”


“Security ID gives an 94.7% verification. Do you know what that means?”


Of course I did. But it was still impossible. “Has to be a genetic remake. I saw Elvis Presley at the New Trocadero last week. Dead spit, he was.” Digalle huffs, but the scorn’s gone before I can protest. “A hologram?” I suggest.


“Do you think we wouldn’t sift out the obvious, long before we’d resort to you? Genetic remakes can’t catch the nuances. Holograms are unstable. Security ID says it’s her.”


“The real thing?”


He shrugs. “As you say, it can’t be her. But we don’t have any alternatives that the analysis programs like.”


I get up from behind my desk and wander to the window. Canberra looks stark under the exposed sun, even with the filters running at maximum. “So Princess Di is skulking about the President’s house. What’s he worried about? That she wants to assassinate him?”


In 2000, the science fiction writer Sean Williams published in Eidolon the story he had written too late for the Aurealis Republic issue. Williams’ decribes ‘The Land Itself’ as “not just a post-human take on the whole Republic issue, but as post-Australia (if that’s a thing).” One of the Australian colonies wants to secede from the motherland and its envoy has to jump through several increasingly strange hoops to do it. He follows this up in 2005 with his second novel, The Resurrected Man which is set in a future Australia (2069) that was part of the United Republics of Australia in which ‘Old Stott-Despoja’ had just been voted in for another term.

Alison Goodman’s (1998) Singing the Dogstar Blues is also set in an Australian republican future. It won a 1999 Aurealis Award, was a CBC Notable Book and was listed as an ALA Best Book (2004). Joss Aaronson, a 17-year-old girl studying to be a Time Jumper is paired up with Mav, the first alien to study on Earth. She has two loves in her life: playing the blues and training at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies to jump through time. It is at the Centre, on the old Melbourne University campus, where Daniel Sunawa-Harrod is reputed to discover the Time-Continuum Warp Field. “On the 10/10/50, the 50th anniversary of Australian Independence Day, Danny receives the Nobel-Takahini Prize for Science”. Writing in 1998, Goodman predicted the success of the 1999 republican referendum and the establishment of the Australian republic in 2000. However, the reality was to be different.

It is through speculative fiction that change can begin. We can’t achieve anything unless we imagine it first. Before every great invention and before every great journey is the idea. Without ideas and imagination, we are all trapped in the past. So, for anyone who is interested in speculating on the possible futures of the Australian republic go to http://republicanfiction.blogspot.com

 
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