The great thing about an anthology of the mind is that you’re not limited to any one form of writing. It takes as much effort to reprint a novel as it does a haiku, because it’s allllllll in your miiiiiiiinnnndddd……
It took me forever to get a copy of KJ Bishop’s The Etched City, and for a very good reason: everywhere I went in the wake of its release, the bloody thing had sold out. And when I finally did get a copy, at a convention almost a year after its release, some bugger half-inched the thing. Which is why the copy I do have is one of my prized literary possessions, because Bishop found out about it and sent me a copy from her personal stash as a replacement, and what’s more, she went through and annotated it beforehand: I’ve got one of the few, if not only, post-published draft edits in existence!
What’s even better, of course, is that the novel is a stunning piece of work. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen published by an Australian author– lyrical, baroque, with a plot that ascends not in a straight line but in a series of unconnected sweeping circles that don’t seem to be going anywhere until, simultaneously, they all do…… perhaps only the equally wonderful Anna Tambour comes close to creating that same sense of the truly lush and exotic, and Bishop does it here in service to one of the great figures of Australian speculative fiction: the gunslinger philosopher Gwynn, of the peacock-eye coat and blanched white countenance, whose louche demeanour is at odds with his troubling inability to fully divest himself of his humanity. Taken alone, his story would be fascinating, but with an equally troubling co-protagonist in the dark medic Raule, and in the beautifully-realised city of Ashamoil, the novel is a feast for the third eye that never stops throwing up images that I find myself pondering long after the reading experience itself has finished.
At a time when my reading– and a fair bit of the Australian work that made up that reading– sat firmly in the standardised American tradition of speculative fiction, it was a slap upside the head as to just how far an Australian author could go to create a non-standard setting and narrative as long as s/he attacked their work with verve and ambition. The Etched City is one of the very few books that I come back to again and again, especially at times when my own creativity is lagging and I need to touch something to spark the wet wood inside my head: at the time of writing I’m re-reading it once more, for somewhere in the region of the seventh or eighth time.