2016 Award

Louise Katz wins the 2016 Norma K Hemming Award!
Presented at Contact2016

Louise Katz

The winner of the 2016 Norma K Hemming Award for excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in Australian speculative fiction is Louise Katz for her speculative fiction novel The Orchid Nursery, published by Lacuna in October 2015.

Commenting on the work the author said,

“This novel is a response to certain dismaying cultural tendencies I see operating today. Some of them aren’t new at all – like mistaking propaganda for information, or accepting commonly held beliefs as truths. The focus of The Orchid Nursery is on possible consequences for women of radical misogyny based on religious paradigms. The narrative asks: what if Christian and Muslim fundamentalists resolved their differences to join forces in a war against secularism, with the religious victorious?

The cover of 'The Orchid Nursery'
The cover of ‘The Orchid Nursery’

“The story extrapolates on current notions of appropriate female behaviour and beauty within both traditional religions and the secular West. Conceptions of ‘choice rhetoric’ and moral collusion, and of beauty and ugliness, are explored through black irony based on exaggerations of pre-existing practices and attitudes. The book draws parallels between raunch culture and modesty culture, seeing these as two sides of the same coin. In the tradition of near-future dystopias it’s pretty grim, but leavened by wordplay and gentler forms of sardonic humour, and the personalities of some of the characters. I hope people will enjoy it as much for what I have tried to do with dark comedy as for any actual message it might contain.”

The Judges, editor Sarah Endacott, editor-publisher Rob Gerrand, and writers Tess Williams and Sean McMullen, commenting on the winning novel had this to say:

The Orchid Nursery is one of those dystopian novels that haunts well after the reading. Women are chattels, dehumanised, sexualised and demonised in ways that are only just beyond belief. So many of this future history’s social mores are rooted in our own, present dystopias, in ways that Katz neatly underlines when she sends her girls out on journeys of self-discovery. One will question her adherence to her religious world; the other will attempt a revolution from within. Both represent female responses to misogyny and tyranny, and the novel explores the human condition in a surprisingly dark context.”

Honorable Mentions

For the 2016 competition, the Judges also saw fit to award Honourable Mentions to the runner ups, a novel by Catherine Jinks Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief published by Allen & Unwin in October 2015, and a novella by Jane Rawson published by Seizure Books in August 2015.

The Judges, editor Sarah Endacott, editor-publisher Rob Gerrand, and writers Tess Williams and Sean McMullen, commenting on the two honourable mentions , had this to say:

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief is a witty novel that explores issues of class and gender in 18th century London. It brilliantly evokes the underclass and social politics of London, replete with the cant of the day. Told from the viewpoint of Theophilus, a 12 year old who leads a team of “link boys” who provide lanterns and guidance through the darker areas of the London slums, all the characters are exceptionally well drawn, against a back drop of the clash between superstition and the Age of Enlightenment.”

Formaldehyde contains a clever examination of the changing nature of disability in an environment of advanced medical technology, and raises the possibility of disability as a lifestyle option. In particular, it highlights modern medicine’s impact on the physical identification of self. Are body parts integral with our identities, or are limbs and organs merely the tools with which we build those identities? Formaldehyde can be described as weird but worthwhile, dealing as it does with innovative but self-destructive human activities that are already feasible with existing technology. Its plot is partly obscured by its clever but complex writing, however, telling the story in both 2000 and 2022, and dividing the perspective between multiple characters.”

Bill Wright – ASFF Awards Administrator (2016)

The Short List, in alphabetical order, is:

The Fire Sermon novel by Francesca Haig published by HarperVoyager on 1 March 2015
Formaldehyde novella by Jane Rawson published by Seizure Books in August 2015
The Hush novel by Skye Melki-Wegner published by Penguin Random House on 2 March 2015
The Orchid Nursery novel by Louise Katz published by Lacuna Publishing on 1 October 2015
The Pyramids of London novel by Andrea K Höst self-published in February 2015
Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief novel by Catherine Jinks published by Allen & Unwin in October 2015
Welcome to Orphancorp novella by Marlee Jane Ward published by Seizure Books on 17 August 2015