Locus Online
J A C K  D A N N &
A N E E N  W E B B :
Gold Down-Under

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, May 1999)
Jack Dann and Janeen Webb
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Amazon links:

(contains ''Niagara Falling'')


Jack Dann's first novel, Starhiker, appeared in 1977, followed by Junction (1981), The Man Who Melted (1984), Echoes of Thunder (1991), High Steel (with Jack C. Haldemann II, 1993), historical secret history The Memory Cathedral (1995), and Civil War historical novel The Silent (1998). His short fiction has been collected in Timetipping (1980). He edited a number of important genre anthologies, including In the Field of Fire (1987) with first wife Jeanne Van Buren Dann. He also co-edited (mostly with Gardner Dozois) numerous SF and fantasy anthologies, from the ’70s to the ’90s.

In 1994 Dann, recently divorced, moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he married Janeen Webb in 1995.

He won a 1996 Nebula for novella ‘‘Da Vinci Rising’’, and Australia’s Aurealis Awards in 1996 for The Memory Cathedral and in 1998 for novella ‘‘Niagara Falling’’, co-written with Janeen Webb.

Janeen Webb is one of Australia’s major SF critics. She was co-editor of the Australian Science Fiction Review from 1987 to 1991, and is co-author, with Andrew Enstice, of academic study Aliens & Savages: Fiction, Politics and Prejudice in Australia (1998).

Jack Dann and Janeen Webb are co-editors of the 1998 Australian original anthology Dreaming Down-Under.

‘‘JD: I’ve been in Australia now for five years. It has affected the fiction. You can see it in ‘Niagara Falling’, and you can see it in a story called ‘Jubilee’. I set it in Greece and New York and Melbourne, not because I chose to. It takes a while for new material to work its way through. I found myself in the very strange situation of living in Melbourne, Australia, and writing The Silent, a novel all about the American Civil War. The embarrassing part of it was, when I started telling Australians I was working on the Civil War, people kept asking me specific questions about it that I couldn’t answer yet. When I was going through Immigration and I had to go see the doctor, I mentioned the Civil War, and he started discussing various generals and strategies. They’ve got one of the old Monitor and Merrimack vessels here, and they’re using it as a sea wall.

‘‘There’s been a lot of talk, over the last years, about a golden age of science fiction in Australia. Harlan Ellison started this off, at a conference with a bunch of writers, and a bunch of readers. Harlan leaned over and said, ‘Do you guys know that you’re right in the middle of your golden age?’ You could feel something go through the room. There really was a recognizable sense of community and of a zeitgeist, that something was happening. This year, the magazines have been arguing that this isn’t a golden age, it’s this and it’s that.... But there’s still that sense of community among the authors, of conversation, writers working off each other with their fiction.

‘‘I think of Dreaming Down-Under as the Australian Dangerous Visions. It’s basically a year’s worth of Australian output in one volume. We wanted the best work the writers were doing. We didn’t care what it was. And in many ways, what we got was not what we expected. We received less hard science fiction than we thought we would. We received more horror. And we got wonderful horror stories by writers known for science fiction.

‘‘My new book, Second Chance, is a novel about James Dean. When I was a kid, I was trying to be James Dean - it was an icon that had strongly affected me. I worked with film director Nick Ray, who did Rebel Without a Cause, years and years ago. Nick was also one of those guys who was kind of a James Dean character. In fact, I got to play James Dean once with Nick Ray. He was standing there in a T-shirt, with his white hair and this patch over his eye, and I was a young punk. ‘Did you want to work on the film?’ he asked me. And suddenly I knew, this was my time. So basically, I’m incorporating that stuff.

‘‘When I walk around and you see me, what you’re really seeing is James Dean as he would have been at my age. The only difference is, I don’t quite look right anymore! Though it won’t be marketed as genre, this is about the life of James Dean after the accident. It’s this world as it would have been affected, had James Dean lived, and beaten Reagan in California, and all sorts of weird stuff.

‘‘I have been on the peripheries of some really interesting politics, so I actually know the players I’ll be writing about. There are a lot of personal reasons for writing the novel, but it’s basically about the American Myth, the Hollywood Myth - sort of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude Goes to Hollywood.’ The reason Dean and Monroe are such iconic characters was that they died young. But that stuff is very powerful, so I want to do a very wild, realistic, fantastical novel about these characters, using the myth.’’

JW: ‘‘I was and still am an academic, teaching. I didn’t meet fandom until 1985, when the Worldcon came to Melbourne. After that, I started commuting to conventions, so I’d see the same people in different locations. The other thing that happened was, I’d promised to give an academic paper on Gene Wolfe, who arrived and sat in the front row as I was presenting it. For a career academic who, up to this point, hadn’t come in contact with the world fantasy or SF conventions, this was a new experience. Now, I’ve kind of gotten used to that interaction, and I really like it.

‘‘Aside from my time in academe, it seems I’ve spent my whole life traveling. I lived in Southeast Asia for three years, on the west coast of Malaysia. Parts of our collaboration, ‘Niagara Falling’ were straight out of my experience in Saudi Arabia.’’

JD: ‘‘Parts of ‘Niagara Falling’ were out of my experience of first landing in Melbourne. George R.R. Martin referred to me as ‘the hermit of Binghamton,’ because you really couldn’t get me out of there. I moved to Australia because I met Janeen at a Locus Worldcon party, and fell in love at first sight! ’’

JW: ‘‘Now I’m writing my first novel. It’s called Death and Desire. It’s probably closer to magic realism than to science fiction, in the sense that it’s set in the real world, but strange things will occur. It has a sense of place, but I would hope it’s not parochial. I would describe it as being like ‘The Seventh Seal on Rodeo Drive.’’’

JD: ‘‘I see Australia moving from a civil culture to a rapacious corporate culture, American-style, but it hasn’t quite permeated yet. When it does, I think you’re going to see the equivalent of road rage. But right now, for me Australia is a lovely culture to live in. Living in Melbourne, the level of tension and crime is substantially lower than what I’d been used to. You can walk through a park at night and stand a chance.’’

© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.