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2007 Judge's Comments: Gary Kemble

I set out to judge the Australian Shadows entries as a reader. Not as a writer, analysing subtexts and themes and the construction of the story, but as a reader. I had one basic criterion: is it a good story?

So what makes a good story?

Characters you care about. You don’t have to like them, but you have to have some emotion invested in them.

A story that works front to back and back to front. That is, once you’ve read it, all the pieces fall into place.

A believable world. Not believable in the sense of, could this really happen, but does the writer succeed in making the impossible seem not just possible, but probable.

Succeed in combining the three, and you have a story that lingers long after the reading.

There were a number of stories that I felt would have made worthy Australian Shadows finalists but, for one reason or another, ended up missing out:

“The Swelling” by David Conyers. A chilling take on the Cthulhu Mythos that also captures the poignancy of loss. It’s also worth noting that, between the three of us, we nominated three of David’s short stories, as well as The Spiralling Worm (a collection cowritten with John Sunseri). And while another of Conyers’ entries - “Weapon Grade” - was more an sf/thriller for me than dark fiction, I can see the adventures of Harrison Peel and Jack Dixon joining John Birmingham and David Kowalski in mainstream sf blockbuster territory.

“Flesh and Bone” by Robert Hood. A thought-provoking riff on the daikaiju that have roamed our cinema and TV screens since the 1950s.

“This Train Terminates Here” by Pete Kempshall. One of the handful of Australian Shadows stories that tackled the often terrifying territory of our everyday life.

I’d also like to mention Richard Pitchforth’s “Transplant”, which was the best story I read, right up until the ending. I’m not sure Richard was aiming for “horror” with this story but I think he owes the world an extended version, where we get to see the hero battle his demons.

Back to 2007 Shortlist