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S E A N   M c M U L L E N : Alien Australia
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, May 2000)

Sean McMullen
    Photo by Charles N. Brown

Sean McMullen, born December 21, 1948 in Sale, Victoria, Australia, has degrees in physics, information science, computer science, and history (M.A.), with another postgraduate in business administration, graduating just before the 1999 Worldcon. He's worked as a lab assistant, a Woolworth’s driver, a librarian (1975-80), and a computer systems analyst at the Bureau of Meteorology.

His first professional story, "The Deciad’’, was published in 1986. The collection Call to the Edge appeared from Aphelion in 1992, followed by "Greatwinter’’ SF novels Voices in the Light (1994) and Mirrorsun Rising (1995). Alternate-history SF novel The Centurion’s Empire came out in 1998, and Souls in the Great Machine -- a rewrite of his first two "Greatwinter’’ novels -- in 1999. McMullen was also co-author, with Russell Blackford and Van Ikin, of Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction (1999). He has earned numerous Australian awards for his work. He married second wife Trish in 1986, and their daughter Catherine was born in 1988.


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Index to Locus Interviews

"The 1958 War of the Worlds comic was my first encounter with science fiction outside the cinema. I saw the comic and thought ‘Wow! This is wonderful!’ I went down to the library, got the original, and found it was better. I read SF pretty voraciously all through school. I read a lot of other literature as well, but science fiction tended to dominate because I come from a family of Scottish engineers. My brothers and my father would have long philosophical discussions every time the Russians or Americans launched something into space, taking pictures of the back side of the moon. ‘Ah, what does this mean for mankind?’ Science and science fiction were treated fairly seriously, but they weren’t fans. They were enthusiasts.

"The wartime embargo on imports of British and American publications had come off in 1958, and all of a sudden the magazines -- Astounding, New Worlds, all that sort of thing -- came flooding into an area which had almost no SF. It had homegrown science fiction, which was really quite terrible, from the start of the war to 1958. There was a guy who did a brain transplant with a pocket knife! Then local authors discovered that they could send material out as well. British author A. Bertram Chandler was living here and selling one story per fortnight overseas, doing very well. Norma Hemming, Australia’s first female hard SF writer, was active then. She wrote the first stage plays of Australian science fiction. All of that was in the ’50s. They’d started having national conventions. They had homegrown magazines that were quite terrible, and they all sank when the import restrictions came off.

"The 1960s were this marvelous renaissance of Australian science fiction. People started sending material overseas. Lee Harding topped the British polls a couple of times. Jack Wodhams was selling to Analog pretty well every month. It was a very exciting time, but I wasn’t aware of the science fiction scene. I was reading all the classics and the greats from overseas, and I was keeping a very close eye on the space race and building my own rockets, having experiments and nearly getting myself killed with my own fuel mixtures, things like that!


"After I met Trish, my second wife, who loves driving around, we started seeing a lot more of Australia, and I realized what a really wonderful, weird, strange place it is. I started looking at it like an outsider, an American or a Brit, and seeing it as another planet. But there were nice hotels, they spoke English, the natives weren’t trying to kill you.... The wildlife will poison you or eat you very readily, for we’ve got huge crocodiles up north, and we’ve got some of the most poisonous snakes in the world - I think of the 12 most poisonous, ten live in Australia! But apart from that, it’s a very good country. The original aborigines were seafarers 60,000 years ago. They couldn’t have got to Australia unless they were able to navigate, and for that time that was quite an accomplishment. They were almost like the first spacefarers - they went across to this new world. Australia’s got a lot of things other continents don’t have. In Hembry, a meteor exploded in mid-air, and the pieces formed a pattern of craters like the lunar surface. NASA sent its astronauts out to train in the area in the ’60s. A lot of Call to the Edge was set on the Nullarbor Plain.

"In Australia, we’ve got a tiny population in an area the size of the United States, and e-mail is the only way we can communicate. It’s brought the science fiction community and a lot of the authors together. You can easily e-mail each other and stay in much better contact. Dealing with Tor in New York is so easy with e-mail. It’s brought Australia’s science fiction into a world arena.

"Australian SF is a strange mixture of US and British science fiction. It’s got a sense of humor. A lot of the people who came out to Australia were the rebels, the ne’er-do-wells, the people who weren’t terribly fond of authority. We’ve got that underlying sort of irreverence.

"The Centurion’s Empire and Souls in the Great Machine were written as serious books, but there’s a lot of funny characters, a lot of comedy. As an Australian, I just have this viewpoint. We don’t go through our lives staying very serious about things.


"The Miocene Arrow, which will follow, is set in the American civilization about 20 years on from Souls in the Great Machine. It basically describes the conditions after the battle satellites are destroyed, in the last stages of Souls in the Great Machine. It’s a very stable, safe environment, ecologically viable. It’s a wild, cruel society in some ways, but benevolent in others. The wild card, Zarvora, is a brilliant mathematician, engineer, the last dying gasp of the old civilization. She decides to revive the old technology. She has great strategic vision, but her vision is basically a love of civilization. She doesn’t like seeing civilization lost, and therefore she’s very cruel, single-minded, determined, because she doesn’t want to see dark ages coming back.


"I’ve been working on a fantasy novel, The Voyage of the Arrowflight. The Arrowflight is a little submersible/sloop. The first story came out in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Down-Under anthology. People manage to escape a terrible ancient weapon by submerging the boat when the continent gets destroyed.''

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