Issue 5 was a first for Cicerone Journal in a number of ways: it was the first time we had done a genre-specific issue; it was the first time we had brought in a new editor since the journal began in 2018; and it was the first time we were able to obtain funding to pay contributors for our regular issue, after enthusiastic responses to our Canberra Anthology and Living Letters projects. The funding for this speculative fiction issue of Cicerone Journal comes from the wonderful ArtsACT. We are immensely grateful for their ongoing support of our journal and of the wider Canberra literary community.
Another first for the journal was the scale of submissions! We are thankful to everyone who submitted their work for consideration.The pieces were highly varied and the ideas memorable, and reading the submissions meant being transported to over 200 different worlds. We hoped that our choice of a speculative fiction focus for Issue 5 would allow us and our readers to escape from the drudgeries of lockdown to new places, and our contributors have entirely surpassed our expectations.
Speculative short fiction is a particularly challenging artform. How does one make engaging characters, establish original worldbuilding, and have a plot all in the space of 5000 words or fewer? We loved the ambition and scope of all submissions – each one was committed to exploring their own unique concepts and perspectives. We found the strongest pieces were those which were whole stories in and of themselves; and those with a light touch and a sense of wonder, that gave the impression of worlds fully formed without spelling out the precise details of their settings.
Whether they were horror, science fiction, or fantasy, the short stories we ultimately decided to publish share the following features: strong, polished writing; vivid characterisation; a memorable, original world or conceit; a plot either emotionally satisfying, unpredictable, or both; and a link to a larger meaning, question, or idea. Cherry Zheng’s “The Stranger” takes us on an unsettlingly believable exploration of our own world made over in neon. “Make Me Smile” by Rebecca Fung holds a funhouse mirror to our personal and collective yearning for perfection and connection. Alexander Gibson’s charming “Frabjous” gives us a gentle, understated tale of friendship between two unlikely protagonists. From the everyday horrors and fantasies in “The Antipodean Undead” (Nick Hartland), “Bottled Spirits” (Jessica Nelson-Tyers) and “All My Tuesdays” (Laura J Fitzwilson) to the compelling futures of “The Unchanging, the Temporary” (Harvey Liu), “Rocket Man” (J.K. Ullrich), and “Blue Tongue”, these stories explore personal, human experiences within worlds not quite like our own.
Issue 5 is composed of nine pieces, each of which offers a unique voice, perspective, and story. We hope you will find these pieces as engaging and transportive as we do.