January 1992. I walked away from SwanCon 17 a very lucky person. Among the scars, trophies and memories, I had a list of new Australian writers I had to check out.
In the aftermath, I found myself holding a copy of a book that would change my life and blow my mind. It had lesbians reading Shakespeare, plaster-casting vampires, and troubled teens with an imaginary village. It had government secrets, and magic mushrooms. It had a whole lot more, besides.
Books are supposed to be magical, transporting the reader into fabulous worlds, and this one did that. Even the title was amazing, enchanting, My Lady Tongue and other tales. The title story has a recalcitrant, rebellious teenaged protagonist, expelled from a lesbian colony, and it was just the most amazing science fiction I had read. It spoke to the 18/19 year-old me like few other works, stretching my mind, taking me to places where the mundane was special. At the same time these stories made me feel, not just the exhilaration of exploring new worlds, but the full rollercoaster of emotions.
I was amazed, enthralled, to use a cliche, totally blown away.
Over the next year, Lucy came back to the next SwanCon, and I remember her on panels, talking about things like the Tiptree Awards. While I was on my way to becoming a brash young thing, I was totally intimidated by Lucy, her articulation, and her writing. I did manage to get her signature on a t-shirt (I believe she told me at the time it was the first time she'd signed a t-shirt).
Over the years I pursued her work, including her young adult anthologies The Lottery and The Patternmaker and her groundbreaking feminist anthology She's Fantastical. I have vivid memories of first reading "Merlusine" when it was reprinted in The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction 2 (edited by Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy G Byrne, 1998). I read that story late one night, on the train from Maddington to Perth. "Merlusine", her incredible tale of the hereditary dysfunction, mythology, research and the Deep South.
There's also Lucy's amazing novel, The Scarlet Rider (1996), full of ghosts and voodoo and inner urban living -- a groundbreaking paranormal romance full of wonderful characterisation, published back in the days when these were called urban fantasy. If it had been released 10 years later it would have been a runaway bestseller, genre-defining, widely acclaimed.
Though Lucy published less than a dozen stories between My Lady Tongue and Other Tales and the end of the 1990s, those stories were special works: "Kay and Phil", a fictional meeting between Philip K Dick and Katherine Burdekin, both creators of future dystopias resulting from Nazi rule; "A Tour Guide in Utopia", introducing 19th century concepts of utopia with feminism; "The lottery", where Sussex wipes out the human race millions of years before it evolves; and her fantastic retake on the Australian classic, 'Waltzing Matilda', in "Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies".
The early 2000s saw Lucy publish some of her best macabre work, her incredibly dark doll stories, including "Frozen Charlottes" and novella "La Sentinelle", stunning stories that should be on everyone's recommended reading list. Her second collection, A Tour Guide in Utopia was published by Bill Congreve's Mirrordanse Books in 2005. An incredible collection of a dozen fantastic tales, at the time I envied Bill for publishing this book.
It's amazing to think that this year marks 20 years since I discovered Lucy's stories. How amazing is Lucy Sussex? A couple of years ago I finally thought I was worthy to publish a collection of Lucy's work, and it then probably took me months to work up the courage to approach her. The result was an amazing experience, Lucy is a delight to work with. We set the parameters of the book: that it be her best, awarded, nominated, and important: her essential works. This gave us 24 stories (we also included an original to give readers an extra treat), about 150,000 words, over 500 pages. At the same time, the number of "non-essential" stories that didn't make the cut probably only adds up to another 24 or 25 stories. That's an impressive hit rate.
How amazing is Lucy Sussex? Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies received a Starred review at Publishers' Weekly (I've published some amazing books but none have scored this). It made the Locus Recommended Reading for 2011 (see above). In putting this piece together I came across a previously unseen review from Paul Kincaid where he calls it a "superb collection" (wow).
How amazing is Lucy Sussex? Some things can't be measured by conventional means.