Review: PIGEONHOLED, Going Down Swinging Press

James Arbuthnott

PIGEONHOLED is an act of defiance as much as it is a swing at the glass ceiling of genre writing.
Review: PIGEONHOLED, Going Down Swinging Press

No other kind of writer understands being pigeonholed more than a genre fiction writer. Their task is to fight convention, to break boundaries, to stand out. As the Editorial of the 39th publication by Melbourne collective Going Down Swinging says, 'Genre fiction isn’t pretentious; It’s bold, brave and glorious'.

From climate fiction to complaints and feedback, ornithology (the biological study of birds) and ichthyology (the biological study of fish), from crime fiction to fan fiction, PIGEONHOLED is an act of defiance as much as it is a swing at the glass ceiling of genre writing.

Award-winning fiction writer, Claire G Coleman, breaks a tough mould in an oversaturated genre by telling a story about zombies with the voice of a zombie. Living inside a quarantined city’s walls, she eats the brains of her victims and aches to one day find her love on the other side of the wall.

A Quiet Call’s balance between RPG narrative and Greek Tragedy traps and forces its protagonist to live out a transcendental medieval storyline of love, fatherhood, alcoholism and marriage. Unable to play a female character, the protagonist’s doomed adventure carves out a new benchmark for adventure writing.

Pigeons understand the laws of economics, says Shaun Tan, the laws which bring money to people and crumbs to pigeons. They also know what people don’t – that the laws of nature are stronger, and money is temporary. They flock to financial hubs for the capital and relish in abandoned hubs after the financial crash, moving from the ground to the top floor to nest. Whether you’re new to ornithology or well-versed in its intricacies, Pigeons proves genre writing is a creative genre of fiction.

Set in a London co-op, Jack Nicholls’ short SF story, Cheek by Jowl, sees the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox used in a technophobic dystopia where multiple subjects inhabit the same space, uninterrupted.

Eric Paul Shaffer’s contribution to the theology section, titled The Atheist, gives nods to the deceased Christopher Hitchens, meeting him in the 'Eight Items or Less' queue. ‘Hitch’ buys cigarettes, wine and cat food – with someone waiting at home for him other than God.

Gibson’s Bat n Ball reads so intimately it almost sounds true. Wayne Marshall's stand-out contribution to the Australiana section sees Nicholas Gibson, son of a wealthy businessman, design a theme park to celebrate his obsession with sports. But his attempt falls short despite public approval, and Gibson finds himself haunted by backyard cricket and markers in the pack inside a monument to his broken home, as well as the detrimental effects of a nation utterly obsessed with sports.

Overall, PIGEONHOLED proves genre fiction can still be, and still is, literary. It provides a beginning and re-entry for readers of high-brow fiction into genre fiction, while genre readers of all kinds will find their expectations heightened and realise these two ends of the spectrum have more common ground than they know.

4 stars ★★★★

PIGEONHOLED
By multiple authors
Going Down Swinging Press
356pp, paperback, $19 RRP
Published in 2018

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a Melbourne journalist and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot