2010: Damien Broderick

A. Bertram Chandler Award presented to Damien Broderick

Damien Broderick
Damien Broderick, San Antonio 2007.
(Photo: Jennifer Bryce)

In 1963, a local religious magazine published Damien Broderick’s first short story: a non-SF piece entitled ‘Walk Like a Mountain.’ However, his real breakthrough came a year later with a much longer story – definitely science fiction this time – ‘The Sea’s Furthest End.’ Damien received the acceptance letter for this ornate, melodramatic space opera when he was only nineteen, and it soon appeared in the UK, in the first of John Carnell’s New Writings in SF anthologies. Despite the tocuches of melodrama, ‘The Sea’s Furthest End’ is rich and clever and memorable. It’s an impressive achievement for a writer who was still a teenager at the time.

This launched Damien’s international literary career, and I’m tempted to claim that he never looked back. That, however, would be doubly misleading. First, because financial exigency kept him selling mainly to Australian markets during the 1960s, then led him into a career as a journalist and magazine editor. Second, he actually does look back: although he’s always found new interests and experimented with ideas and forms, he often finds opportunities to deepen, extend, and update earlier narratives.

Damien has long been at the forefront of Australian science fiction – even since moving to San Antonio, Texas, where he’s been based for several years now. He’s won numerous awards, including his first of several Ditmar Awards for The Dreaming Dragons (1980) (this book was also runner-up, to Gregory Benford’s Timescape, for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award). During the 1980s, Damien completed a PhD from Deakin University, with a doctoral dissertation on the semiotics of literary and scientific discourses, paying particular attention to science fiction. Thereafter, he emerged as a major commentator on the implications of advanced technology, and on the complex boundaries and relationships between literature and science.

Any attempt to come to terms with Damien’s overall achievement would require an understanding of his extraordinary breadth of reading and concern. A full critical study would examine his work as a radio dramatist, journalist, magazine and anthology editor, critic, literary theorist, and public intellectual. The totality of it all is breathtaking. But for all that, the productions that have most defined his career, and perhaps his self-understanding, have always been his novels and short stories.

Over time, Damien has grown as a storyteller and wordsmith: he has developed an increasing sophistication of technique and a deeper vision. His narratives often depict extraordinary travels in space and time, with a particular interest in the paradoxes of time travel and intertemporal communication, and in related themes such as parallel or altered realities. Something of this is apparent in ‘The Sea’s Furthest End,’ where there is a sort of split-level reality; but it is most explicit in such novels as The Dreaming Dragons, The Judas Mandala (1982), and the more recent diptych of Godplayers (2005) and K-Machines (2006). He is also imbued with mainstream literary values, and his fiction is remarkable for the many techniques and voices that he has employed to express his vision.

Damien’s novels and stories can be enjoyed for their clever accounts of extraordinary adventures, for their author’s ever-deepening personal philosophy, and most certainly for his gift of humor. I’ve emphasized his serious concerns, but many of Damien’s narratives are surprisingly funny, employing irony, wordplay, and even slapstick comedy.

Over the years, since his precocious beginnings as a professional writer, Damien Broderick has developed a mastery of style, technique and voice. He renews his central themes each time he takes them up, and displays a versatility that marks him out as a writer of exceptional value and interest. His diverse and extraordinary achievements in the science fiction field make him an outstanding recipient of the A. Bertram Chandler Award.

– Russell Blackford, 1 August 2010