- Collisions: Fictions of the Future, by various authos. Bloomsbury. $26.99.
Collisions is a collection of short stories that were long-listed for the 2019 Liminal Fiction Prize, a prize specifically for Indigenous writers and writers of colour.
In the introduction, Leah Jing McIntosh demonstrates why such a development was (and is) necessary, due to the very few "non-white" writers winning awards. The resulting anthology is a remarkable collection.
The stories take very different approaches to the idea of the future. Claire Cao, for example, manages to capture the sweep of a life, and the insidious expectations placed on older people, in just 10 pages. The story is both detailed and touching, as are some of the works that are more obviously about changes to Australian society in future years. "Auburn Heights", by Naima Ibrahim, captures a future displacement of diverse communities from a suburb that has housed them and where they have worked for generations. It enacts something central to Australian history, in a tale of continued colonisation, seen through the eyes of Yusuf, a business owner. The control of an area is often linked to who has the power to name it, as the story shows. (Incidentally, this story from 2019 foresaw "the 2020 recession", giving an almost spooky air of prescience to the work.)
One of the "collisions" that the collection provides is against complacency of what we expect from a short story. Language is challenged, as is the way stories are presented. For example, Bryant Apolonio's "Bad Weather" is presented on either side of a vertical line dividing the pages, challenging even the way that we usually read. Each side of the story is a little like a piano piece where two hands move independently, with the occasional chord where the two lines merge. Words are also stretched and recreated: "(couchsurfer)" by Jason Gray ends with a remarkable rewriting of a word that the reader should discover for themselves. And in "Tongue", by Jessica Zhan Mei Yu, a seeming metaphor is taken to a literal (and horrifying) conclusion. Images from this story will haunt the reader for quite some time, and, while on that topic, it is also notable how many ghosts of various sorts appear throughout the anthology. The past is always speaking to the future, it seems.
Some of the most memorable stories in Collisions present visions of the future where things are, in some ways, positive. "Terranora" (Mykaela Saunders) is one such work, where the return of land (injured, but healing) to Indigenous people allows for the possibility of kindness. CB Mako's "West of the Sun and Sea" presents a vivid vision of Sunshine (a suburb of Melbourne) where people's needs are put first, including those of people living with disability, and is followed by "The Revolution Will Be Pirated" by Bobuq Sayed, which contains the less-than-enticing possibility of "a newly re-elected Kyle Sandilands" as PM. The reader may smile at this at first, but the details of the society in which this takes place seem achingly possible and are far from funny. Populism always relies on the exclusion of those people seen as different in some way, and the details of this is a future Australia are made awfully plausible in this story. There are wonderful collisions between some of the stories, in the transitions from the mildly optimistic to the truly dystopian.
The effects on climate change, the possibility of interspecies communication, the varied types of love, class and its intersections with racial privilege, the ways that bodies are monitored and judged, cut into and "improved" (or even done away with altogether) are some of the touch-points in this volume. Taking the pulse of the future in 16 sessions, this book shows how the short story has so much to offer. At its best, the form can provide both a slap on the face of complacency, and a beguiling invitation to revisit again and again.
One of the things that a reviewer learns quickly is to ignore a lot of what is said on the back of a book, where superlatives often breed like cane toads. In the case of Collisions, though, the assertion that the "collection showcases some of the best work that Australian literature has to offer" seems no more than fitting. The question remains; just what are we missing out on where voices such as those contained in this volume often have to struggle to be heard? (That "we" means both the writers and the possible readers.) And as Leah Jing McIntosh asks "Who decides what is worth funding, worth publishing, worth marketing, worth studying?"
At a time where we sometimes seem trapped in the worst possible vision of the future in a society controlled by a virus - a situation that has impacted diverse groups of people differently - it seems particularly important to think about what may lie ahead.
Collisions is a brilliant collection of short stories, giving flesh to various futures.
- Penelope Cottier writes poetry as PS Cottier.